No Plain Jane

No Plain Jane

I was 22 days older than her. This time last week I attended the first funeral of one of my classmates; her name was Jane and she’d had cancer for the last decade She was not a plain Jane by any means, in fact she was the prettiest girl in the school, and I had envied her because she was tall and always looked immaculate during those awkward teenage years. Death is an inevitable fact of life, but no one should have to endure pain, and I take some small amount of solace in that she is now pain-free.

I hadn’t seen her since we were 16 years old when we left school to start the next stage of our lives. I had gone onto college and University and those who didn’t quite get the grades stayed in the area and got the best job they could. That’s what Jane did, but when you spend 5 years of your life seeing someone each day, while you are growing up you get to see the real person. There were 33 of us in my class; we were the top class, and we all knew each other as you would expect after 5 years from the age  of 11 to 16. We all sent one another Christmas cards (even the lads) and exchanged gifts with our pocket money, and then suddenly a couple of decades later we are reunited for all the wrong reasons. Not everyone could make it because they were no longer in the area or couldn’t take the day off work, but that didn’t mean they weren’t thinking of Jane.

Like one of those made for television movies, I’d returned home to look after a sick parent and eventually bumped into some old school friends who had remained in the area. We made plans to meet up over time, and I did with a couple and then I suggested meeting up with Jane who was still well at the time. After lots of messaging back and forth, people were busy with school holidays and then it was Christmas and before you knew it a year had passed by. Then I got a WhatsApp message telling me the news and that the funeral was on Monday, the next day. My friend said she hoped to see me there. I didn’t have to think about it; of course I would be there, and asked if we could go together mainly because I didn’t know how to get the crematorium.

This was the first of our school friends who had died that we knew well. At college, one of my classmates didn’t come back after the Easter break in my law class. It took a few days before I asked if he was alright and that’s when I was told he’d died from meningitis during the two week break. His name was Andrew, but I didn’t know him well and no one ever sat at his desk for the remainder of the year. In my first few weeks of University I chatted to a girl called Emma who was studying English and said goodbye to her on the Friday as I went home to get more clothes. I returned on the Monday to find she had died from meningitis, and I was probably one of the last people to speak to her before she fell ill. Life is transient, and each interaction we make is unique and can never be taken for granted. Death makes us remember that materialism really doesn’t matter, because experiences and memories can remain with us forever.

Kay, my friend came and picked me up on the day of the funeral and we chatted about who else would be there, and what we should do afterwards. There was a wake in a nearby pub and so we parked there and got a lift to the crematorium with some other friends, none of whom I had seen for a couple of decades. Some I had reconnected with on Facebook, and others I barely recognized. At one point I had to ask someone if I knew them, and I did as soon as the name was mentioned. You see teenage boys who were late developers look so different as men!

There was a long queue when we arrived and I followed what others were doing. People had arrived early and we knew that we’d be standing but it made her death all the more tragic. I spotted a few faces I recognized, and more that I didn’t. These are the people who had been part of her adult life, and the person she became that I never got to know.

What can I say about her? She never had a bad word to say about anyone and she always had a warm and kind smile. As teenagers she was one of the first to wear high heels to school, just an inch and a half, but that made us feel grown up. We learnt together how to walk in them and discussed the best shops to get heels, and then there were the over the knee socks because three-quarter just looked too young. I learnt from her and others how to hold up over the knee socks (elastics sewn together), and also the basics of makeup from lipsticks to eyeliner. In hindsight we couldn’t wait to grow up, and at least I can treasure those innocent days. A few of us would walk home for lunch, and Jane would peel off to her road while we carried on. We only had an hour, yet we managed to pack so much in back then.

Even though I hadn’t seen Jane for years I knew I would cry, not for her, but for not getting around to seeing her earlier. Kay said she’d not been getting any better so she wasn’t strong enough to meet up with us. That was little consolation as we stood to the side. I looked around and saw Amanda who I knew would be crying so I avoided looking at her, then another person stood with our group as I came eye to eye with another old friend, Anna and we hugged without any hesitation once we recognized each other. We both cried because we hadn’t seen each other for years and had lost contact. She cried most of the time, but she had known Jane since primary school and so had Kay; it was going to be much harder for them.

I listened to the service as we heard about her life, as she laid in a coffin just metres away from me. It was hard and I looked to the ceiling to avert any tears, but Anna next to me struggled and I held her hand. We’d all been in the same class for 5 years, and as  teenagers Anna and I used to volunteer at the local theatre together and have fun running around behind the scenes. We followed everyone out and I whispered to Kay, “What do we do now?” but she didn’t know either and we ended up outside unsure what to do while people hugged one another. “Nudge me and tell me who people are if they say hello to me,” I whispered to Kay. I saw the other Jane, one of Jane’s best friends who saw me and who grabbed and hugged me. We cried and made a promise to meet up and to find the time. While Jane’s death was tragic, it brought us together and made us realize that we must make time for one another.

Some were going to the pub and others couldn’t because they lived out of the area and had to get back, so I said goodbye to Anna several times and promised to meet up again. We suggested a class/school tribute to Jane, because while many others knew her in her adult life, she was part of our growing up; those teen years where you swap tips on getting rid of spots, how to dye your hair, and when you learn slang and swear words, and also about sex and dating. At the pub we reminisced about passing magazines around in class, which teachers we liked, and tales of getting locked out of the classroom. That was a lifetime ago, but it  was an era that defined who we became and how we turned out.

At the wake there were others I recognized, but a smile and a nod sufficed as they had been the school bullies. I chatted to Julie who was in our group that arrived together. To be honest I didn’t remember her name despite Kay’s description of her, and only after an hour or so did I remember who she was. I didn’t know her well, but I knew of her and I saw faces that had been in my primary school. Most of the people there had never left the area, but I had been away for a long time and was only back to care for a sick parent. Leaving the area was something I had yearned for since childhood and now amongst old school friends I realized it was the best choice I made, never to look back.

Nevertheless, these people were part of my life and shaped who I became today, whether through friendships, or my learning to stand up for myself against them. Each interaction helps us to learn strengths and discover our weakness. I saw Helen who hugged me and told everyone I was the best netball shooter in the county and that when we went to the same High School we had the best team. That was true, because we won just about every single tournament possible. We’d played netball together for years, and I didn’t know her that well to be honest, but when I think about it we spent a lot of time practising and playing sports together over a decade, so maybe I did know her better than I thought.

As Kay and I left the pub, I sighed and said, “That was weird, but I’m glad I’m with you,”, because it had been an emotional time for us all. People that I had grown up with and not seen for decades had made me remember that sometimes the little things we worry about really aren’t that important. Even though Kay and I hadn’t seen each other for decades, because we had been part of a gang, we knew each other well and could talk without the need for small talk or minding your p’s and q’s.

I decided the whole day was for Jane and to think of the good times we had learning to grow up. That night I added a few extra friends on Facebook in a bid to keep in touch and somehow we will do our own celebration for Jane, our old classmate, the first to go and it’s not easy to get your head around.

One minute we can’t wait to leave school, and then we get caught up in adult life and responsibilities. Before we know it that phase is over, and we are reminded that life is short and while life will always have difficulties and tragedies to cope with, we learn from them. Death teaches us to appreciate the true friendships you have and not to take them for granted. Bonds cannot be broken despite time apart.

Our old school friends will always be a part of us for they helped shape who you are today, even if you never see them again. As for my friend Jane, I know she will be happy she brought everyone together, and I am safe in the knowledge she is no longer in pain or suffering. Even though I never wanted to return to my home town, I am glad I was here to see Jane for the last time. I smile as I remember us walking home for lunch and swapping pin badges of pop groups on our school bags in our salad days. Life was less complicated than it seems today, but in reality it’s only as complicated as we make it. Night Jane, and watch over us!


Levels of Gratitude

Levels of Gratitude

What is having gratitude? Is it being grateful towards someone when they help you, or is it trait that one learns to acquire or possess as an outlook in their life? If you speak to someone who studies spirituality or religion, the phrase will no doubt come up at some point, but are they truly grateful for whatever, or do they feel that having gratitude is necessary for them to evolve?

From a philosophical viewpoint, gratitude is something that is personal to the self and is when there is honest and true appreciation for something. The problem with spiritual or religious gratitude is that it seems too contrived and even corny. I once joined a Facebook group with a Gratitude Circle more out of curiosity then anything to see what people felt the need to express gratitude for. Things varied from being grateful for waking up, the clear blue sky, and other things such as friendships, and events that happened such as say the neighbor who stopped to give you a lift in the rain. But how do you measure gratitude? Surely there are different levels? I never posted on the group because it would have been disingenuous of me, because there isn’t actually much I am truly grateful for at present. Instead, I found that it was a space for people to boast, and vent and it didn’t inspire me, although some felt it helped them so maybe it served a purpose?

To me, gratitude should be from something unique and that affects and changes your life or day. Yes, one should be grateful for food, shelter, and the basics, but in reality while those things can be lost if you are homeless, for most people they are the norm. That isn’t to say I don’t have gratitude for somethings as I do, in particular some friendships, and the kindness I have seen from strangers. Other than that I am fairly cynical of the world for very few people do things without wanting anything in return, or those who don’t appreciate the trouble people have gone to in order to help them.

When I lived on a spiritual retreat, the concept of gratitude was destroyed in the weekly meeting where everyone had to take a turn and say what they were grateful for that week. It reduced gratitude to such foolhardiness I dreaded my turn. People came up with ridiculous things for the sake of it, such as being grateful for the cook who made their favorite dish of mac n’ cheese that week, to someone saying they were grateful for me organizing a pick up for them from the airport. I tried to smile and nod, but the fact is it was my job as I worked on the front desk answering the calls from the sole phone in the building. He had nothing to be grateful for as I was merely doing my job, and I hadn’t gone out of my way to help him. Gratitude should stem from a selfless act that is freely offered. I hadn’t offered and it wasn’t a selfless act. When you debase gratitude, then it loses the sentiment it actually stands for.

On one occasion someone did express gratitude towards me, and I accepted it with grace. It was from a young college student who had driven up from New Haven to the Berkshires to see if working and staying on a spiritual retreat would help him find himself. He’d arrived late that Thursday and I had got back from Vermont after a day out putting the center’s magazine out wherever we could. I’ll admit I felt a little like a member of a cult doing it, but I knew I could leave whenever I wanted, plus it was an excuse to get out of the center which was seeming more like a prison. Anyhow, I arrived in time for dinner and the newcomer with news of the outside world and fresh tales livened up the evening.

The next day was Friday when people would arrive for the workshops so everyone was busy. I was off that day but had to stay around as I had been assigned KP (Kitchen Patrol ~ a name for washing up) duty. That was one of the problems; when it’s a day off it should be that, but meant I was limited in what I could do that day as I had to be back by 6 p.m. so a relaxing day out wasn’t actually possible without fearing being late. I couldn’t even read or write anywhere because the lounges were being cleaned, and so I was reduced to a corner in a corridor where I sat and chatted to the young lad.

I listened mainly, but told him he should go back to Princeton as he only had 6 months left, and then go off on a nomadic trip to discover himself. I also told him that giving up college to come to the spiritual retreat for 3 months would be a mistake, and confided in him I was  planning to leave as soon as I could. It’s not about the place you are at that can give you clarity and comfort, but it comes from within. Too often we think it we go to a certain place, then magically things will appear and get resolved. They don’t; we may get inspired by nature or by those we cross paths with, but a place alone doesn’t ensure or deliver wisdom, or peace of mind. In fact I admit each day I began with a coffee in a takeout cup and a cigarette by the lake to help me get through the day. Out of all the places I have been to in the world, this was the place I shouldn’t have felt that way.

He had packed all this things and seemed intent on not returning to Princeton, but I reminded him to keep all options open. For some, 6 months seems a long time, but in fact it isn’t and I said if he sticks it out, he would have a bit of paper that could open more doors for him, and it would also give him time to decide what to do. There were options; he could always return and then redo the final year as well if he really wanted to leave so he had choices as well as never to return to Princeton.

I told him a bit about my story, and I had managed to talk him out of staying on at the retreat at least. He decided to head back to New Haven before dinner, and we bade farewell, and I was relieved I had at least saved him from being spiritually discouraged if he had stayed. About 10 minutes later he walked back in and hugged me and said he had decided to stay on and finish at Princeton. He then produced some pages torn out from his favorite book to give to me to show his gratitude. I can honestly say that is the most genuine and beautiful gift anyone has ever given me.

Recently I have experienced people who haven’t shown any gratitude, and who maybe don’t realize that in an attempt to help them it did take up my valuable time and effort which was wasted. What I have learned is that if you are too openly helpful this can be abused. I helped out some elderly neighbors with small tasks such as shopping or changing a lightbulb, but recently it seems to have been taken for granted. There’s a 97 year old who can’t leave the house and she wanted some slippers but no one would help her buy them, so her friend offered to buy them as a gift, and I offered to look online and order them for her. Anyhow, after the first attempt the size she told me was too small and her feet had bandages on and water retention so I reordered two sizes up and two pairs. One fitted but she didn’t like the elastic that held the slipper in place and the other seemed too big. Given it’s summer and not the season for slippers, there is little choice and to be honest I was annoyed as I had to send them back. Neither of the elderly who are both in wheelchairs appreciate the hassle of walking a mile to a post office to mail them back, when the slippers actually fitted and were a gift. Apparently she rang to say don’t bother to reorder, although I had already decided, my generosity had been stretched too far already.

You see one must be able to differentiate from the different levels of gratitude, where someone goes out of their way to help as opposed to an inner gratitude of being grateful when you appreciate what you have usually because you haven’t had it before or have lost it at some point. However. gratitude should not be debased, for we can be grateful on many different levels, but trying to find things to be grateful for is unnatural. There is nothing wrong if there isn’t anything you are grateful for, and it doesn’t make you a bad person either. Gratitude comes from within and naturally without having to think about it, and there is no price tag on it. Should we be grateful each day for something? That is for you to decide because it’s personal and you don’t need to share it with anyone.

What’s in it for me?

What’s in it for me?

At first glance, one naturally assumes “What’s in it for me?” is a selfish thought, but one should look at the circumstances before they make any judgment. Is it acceptable to say or think this without being selfish? I say this having been put in an awkward position, torn between doing the right thing and being taken for granted. Thus, this has given me a fresh and alternative perspective on the phrase, “What’s in it for me?” and whether it’s such a bad thing?

I do believe in helping and doing things for others without thinking about ‘what’s in it for me,’ or to do something and expect that favor to be returned at a later date. Yet, the human side of us will subconsciously note that favors maybe owed if the occasion arises. As much as we like to deny it, many can’t help but think if you’ve helped someone out then it’s natural to assume if you need help they will offer. Sadly as I have learned in life that is not always the case, yet that should not deter you from helping others because you wish to. You should do things with a good heart, and if it’s appreciated great, and even if it’s not. yet I do draw the line at being taken advantage of.

There is a line though; helping someone in need is commendable, but what if the receiving party starts to take it for granted or that they assume the help given is something they are entitled to? Are you really helping them then, or are you being used and is your good nature being abused? How do you make that discernment? Should you continue to help even if you know you are being taken for granted? Is that the right thing to do, and if so who for?

This has happened to me as I have been helping a neighbor who has MS. She has no siblings and is a spinster, but she does have a small handful of friends and some cousins. Apparently the family used to help her but stopped, and that’s because they discovered she had left everything in her will to a good friend. He wasn’t a partner, but she had hoped he would be. Then suddenly he died, and she had to change her will and the family found out that she had not left them a penny despite taking her to hospital numerous times and running around looking after her. She also assumed the friend would have left everything to her, but in fact he gave it all to charity and didn’t even leave his sibling anything and who was using food banks to survive. Somehow, it doesn’t look as if either had sound judgment.

One assumes that the neighbor would now rectify things and leave something in her will to her cousins, however, it seems she has decided to leave it all to her godsons who turn up once a year with a Christmas card for about 10 minutes. You see, she has this idyllic belief that because she is a godmother it creates a bond. Quite simply put she has bought them cars and that was the last she really saw of them, so is she that dim or wrapped up in the romantic notion of the title of godmother? The fact is her friend asked her to be godmother because she knew she had money. Regardless of all that, I still help and make sure she has food in the fridge or freezer, and that cold call scammers are told to go away several times a week. I don’t ask for anything, but I don’t like my help and time to be taken for granted or abused.

The irony is when she was ill and I called to arrange an ambulance to pick her up, her next of kin is still her cousin who she is leaving nothing to, so these godsons have all the benefits with zero responsibility. Now is that right? I can see why the cousin is reluctant to help, as she has a right to ask, “What’s in it for me?” if you are going to be responsible for someone else when they are ill.Yet, the executor of the will is the godson’s mother, and to be honest I don’t want to get embroiled in any of it, yet I observe from a distance because I don’t wish to see an elderly neighbor struggle to make a cup of coffee or to undo the lid on a carton of milk (both of which she struggles to do).

Recently though I had to say ‘no’ when she called me at 9.30 at night to ask me to help her fill out a prize draw contest form she got in the post because she couldn’t read it. It wasn’t an emergency and she expected me to stop what I was doing to come over, and it wasn’t on. The same happened when one day when I was over dropping off some shopping when she wanted me to look through all her cupboards for a book. Her home help was coming the next day, and I told her to ask her to do it when she comes as she gets paid £20 an hour to do whatever she needs help with. The government also gives her a tax free allowance of £7k to pay for help, but she uses it instead for a hairdresser to come weekly and bought a new set of fitted wardrobes. She should be using the money to pay for help and not depend on the kindness of neighbors whom she expects help from.

So why do I feel used and and my good nature abused? Because she has decided to give her godsons an annual tax free lump sum, and she did it in front of me while I was preparing her dinner. I did it because I know if I didn’t she’d forget and when she forgets to eat, she doesn’t take her medication and then she ends up falling and calling the paramedics. I ask myself am I helping or enabling, and then what is in it for me? It was a slap in the face for me, and I felt stupid and used.

One may wonder why she is giving money to people who don’t help her and who don’t even care about her. So as others say, let them look after her if she is going to leave them money. Her home help became a friend of mine and she told me that you cannot get emotionally involved when helping people. She was right, and it’s not a case of ‘what’s in it for me?’, but ‘what’s in it for them?’ If people want and need help they need to either pay for it or appreciate it and not take it for granted.

Now, if the neighbor had decided to leave all her money to charity, or had none, then I’d have no problems helping her at all, but to leave it to others because you think the title of a godson confers some kind of bond is quite frankly dumb. You can’t buy family or friends, and I took a step back and thought why am I helping this person a couple of hours a day out of the goodness of my heart (and putting off my own needs such as writing and housework) and not wanting anything in return, and to my face she arranges a financial advisor to come to the house (and she calls me to come over) and signs papers to give the godsons and their mother a tax free lump sum annually when they don’t lift a finger to help her. I then had to ask myself, “What’s in it for me, and am I being used?’ Even when I do her shopping, sometimes she rounds up and lets me keep the change and other times she gives me the exact amount. We’re not talking the odd loaf of bread or pint of milk, but a full on weekly shop that is heavy to carry and time consuming to buy. She has some ready made meals delivered once a month, buy not enough for the entire month and is always at least 10 meals short, and I make sure she always has spares.

Its not about money, but being appreciated, and that is lacking now as what was grateful assistance has turned into expected help. So, sometimes asking, “What’s in it for me?” isn’t necessarily selfish if you feel you are being taken advantage of and your good nature is being used. We all have life lessons, and learning to accept help graciously and to appreciate it is a lesson too.

I thought to myself, isn’t she ashamed or embarrassed of signing over lump sums to people who don’t even visit her on her birthday, while some days I’ll spend a couple of hours helping her change her bedding (because she wet it by accident) and tidying up things around the house because she can’t and sometimes I get a thank you? It’s not as if I have time, but I make time to help someone, but now perhaps I need to stop so she can learn to appreciate the help she had? I will still help her in emergencies, but she has a government allowance to pay for help (which she doesn’t use but squirrels away) and if she can freely giveaway lump sums to people who don’t even visit her, then she needs to learn to use the funds for their intended purpose and not to waste the money on ornate items around the house. It does mean if she falls ill and ends up in a home then she brought this on herself by failing to appreciate the help given. I even tried to get the home help to come more than once a fortnight, but she is too busy. So out of the £7k yearly allowance the government gives my neighbor to pay for help, she spends less than £1k on her home help a year, and the other £6k is frittered away. Is that right too? Have I enabled this accidentally?

Today in society, millennials in particular have a curious sense of entitlement, but asking, “What’s in it for me?” isn’t as selfish as it sounds under certain circumstances, because if you are being used, you have the right to ask if you feel you are being taken for a ride. Showing appreciation and gratitude isn’t about money, but can come from words and gestures and that’s what matters more. At times, the right thing to do is ask, “What’s in it for me?” because being taken advantage of creates negative energy, and leads to resentment. There is absolutely nothing in it for me when I help her except to know I am helping a disabled, and elderly woman who is alone and to make her life more comfortable, yet, I will no longer do it at the expense of my own needs. What I have chosen to do is limit any help to a minimum now, and to only help when it’s convenient for me. While I know my neighbor appreciated the help from time to time, the ‘slap in the face’ was the final straw, and maybe this is a lesson she needs to learn the hard way?

Does the Good Side Always Win?

Does the Good Side Always Win?

If you went to a church school as I did, then you will have been brought up with the notion that ‘good will always overcome evil’ and to most that will mean the goodies will always win over the baddies. Perhaps it was a way to encourage children to be good, but I’m sure there are many passages in the Bible that send the same message, however it depends on what you deem the ‘good side’ is.

I want to believe good will always win, and deep down I do, but actual experience tells me that it doesn’t. Not here on the physical realm anyhow. You are then left wondering what’s the point in doing the right thing if the bad side wins? It’s not much consolation being told that in the Spiritual Realm it counts and you will reap rewards at some point when you are suffering and perhaps even made to look a fool for having faith (for some it means being financially ruined, or a loss of reputation). I can now see why it can deter people from choosing to be good and to do the right thing when they see others being rewarded who clearly aren’t on the good side. I also can see why people are atheists or deem religions with skepticism.

Perhaps it’s a test to see who succumbs to temptation or the easy way? Even if it is,there is only so much a Soul can endure before their faith and belief in the good can waver. The good side doesn’t always win here on the physical realm, but on the Spiritual Realm it always wins, but can you trust in something that isn’t tangible? This is why an incarnation can seem like an endurance test; to see how many times we do give in, or turn a blind eye. Life is like a game at times and you must hold fast for you don’t know when the game will end or what the prize will be. However, don’t get too disappointed if you end up on the losing side here on the physical plane, and don’t let it stop you from being ‘good’ and choosing the right thing to do. That’s the problem with humanity now, people are easily slipping in their morals and so the ‘good side’ doesn’t always win because they justify their gray borderline acts.

The phrase ought to be ‘Good should always overcome the bad, but it doesn’t always win’ because it’s more realistic. I find that indoctrinating people from a young age in believing that good will always win is counter productive, and can lead to disappointment and a loss of faith, for the good doesn’t always win depending on whose eyes you are looking through. We know this because bad people do get away with crime, liars and frauds get away with their schemes, so good doesn’t always win on the physical realm. It’s a huge misconception, and although I can see the logic, logic and human morality don’t go hand in hand.


Then we must ask what is winning? Is it the side that most people believe or agree with, but does it matter what the masses think for they could be wrong too? Is it important to win, and how did the desire to win come about? The greatest lessons are learned not with the outcome but with the journey to get there. I get slightly deflated when I see people basking in adulation and glory when someone better should have won. Winning doesn’t always matter for it’s about who  performed well at the given time and is transient. Too much emphasis is given to winning and losing, and let’s face it, no one wants to lose, but people expect the winners to be the best and to be good. However, they aren’t always especially if we look at politics (such as the recent USA and Philippines elections), and winners of awards aren’t always good or nice people either. We expect them to be, but the reality is that a winner doesn’t define goodness.

Everyone has the choice to be good or bad, and even if the good doesn’t always win, we should strive to be good and not let the need to win compromise our morals or choices. It’s not always easy, but it’s possible!


The Pitfalls Of Taking Responsibility

The Pitfalls Of Taking Responsibility

As the first born, I was responsible from an early age for my sibling and he needed it. The amount of times I have pulled him back from running into a road, helped break a fall from a swing, or held his hand while he balanced on a wall, and those were just things when we were toddlers. In society today, taking responsibility and take credit for an achievement are two different parallels. People don’t mind being responsible (and getting credited) for positive things, such as being part of a team for winning an award, but when they are associated with scandals such as the Harvey Weinstein cases, no one wishes to accept or take responsibility. It can naturally damage reputations, but denying something that you knew, well is that honest just because you don’t want others to judge you poorly? Is it to save yourself and claim ignorance when really you didn’t want to get involved, turned a blind eye, or convinced yourself it was none of your business?

Not everyone can be a leader, and even people in positions of power can handle responsibility poorly, or pass the buck whenever they can. People care about an unblemished reputation, but with responsibility comes the pros and cons and that means shouldering the blame when things go wrong under your watch. Take for instance, parents are responsible for their children, yet we know many do neglect them, so while they have that duty of care, many don’t know how to use it or actually want it either. Where a company or political party fails, then the leader resigns (because they failed those under them) usually before they get pushed. Some try to cling to power, and use excuses (British Airways Chairman Cruz comes to mind when a computer glitch due to cheaper outsourcing led to delays and cancellations of flights) to account for what transpired. Accepting responsibility and then resolving and dealing with the issue is what a good leader does, rather than make excuses.

There is also a moral responsibility to others, and the question is where do you draw the line? In what circumstances can you say it’s none of your business and not have an uneasy conscience? I battle this out with my friends often, because as humans we do have a moral responsibility to others, but it also bound by an unspoken law of privacy. When is it right to intervene or say something when you suspect something is wrong, or are you interfering? Do you sit idly by and chant, “It’s not my business,” and hope there is no fall out?

Currently I am living this dilemma is several situations. I have a neighbor with multiple sclerosis, and that means her brain cells are dying at a much faster rate and thus she doesn’t have full capacity. She can’t remember names, or some days whether she has eaten. I help as a neighbor, but where do I draw the line as she’s not my responsibility, yet I know if don’t check on her she may not have eaten all day or forgotten to take her medication?

A while back I hadn’t been to see her for a few days and all she had eaten were cereal bars, because she forgot to eat. She only has cousins but they aren’t as close as they used to be, and as she is old, most of her friends have passed away. I know I’m not responsible for her, but I do feel a moral responsibility to make sure she has eaten each day, because I’m sitting a few doors away and a small act can make a difference. On the other hand her friends feel I am interfering, especially when I tell her it’s not wise to go out in the dark in winter for no reason other than it gets her out of the house when she’s had several falls in the house. That’s just common sense, which sadly she no longer is capable of all of the time. Her friends do have a responsibility to ensure she is safe, yet the few she has don’t exercise it and it leads to her getting ill.

We all have some kind of responsibility whether we like it or not. Many shun the thought of it, because it means you must be accountable, and while I’m not fond of hierarchies, the fact is they are necessary to help balance and keep order. I was recently attacked as being arrogant and for acting out of place by someone because I took responsibility and acted. Some may ask why I acted, and there is always a reason but do I need justification to act when a position of authority is being abused? I naturally expected some criticism, but actually it only came from one person who voiced their opinion (no one agreed with them), while there may be others who thought the same but opted to remain silent.

Often in life we hope someone else will take responsibility, or that whatever needs resolving will naturally occur. Unfortunately that isn’t always the case and when you are in a position of responsibility you must make choices and take actions that you know others won’t necessarily like or understand, and that will lead to criticisms and bitter hatred. I have fired staff before, but only after they are given a chance to redeem themselves. Bosses in stores that struggle to make profits have to cut staff numbers and close stores; it’s never popular but these are the decisions those in responsibility must make to ensure a company survives. Politicians have to balance making decisions for the good of the people, while also doing what is best for the country. These don’t always go hand in hand, if you take Brexit in the UK as an example. The choices the government makes are on behalf of the people, and some may not be so popular for sectors of society whom will be affected, but regardless these decisions must be made, and the country (like a company) comes before the people.

Leaders or those in charge will always face popularity issues; if they do and say things the masses like all is good, however, once the don’t, that tide will change. Even though I don’t need to justify my actions, I feel the need to explain myself nonetheless for those with little understanding of the spiritual world. We all have Guides whether we know it or not in life, and while some acknowledge them others don’t have a clue. There are Guides in training, and who are mentored by more experienced Guides. Therefore if a Guide is abusing their powers and harming others in favor of their charge, then those mentoring the Guide should intervene. So what happens if that doesn’t work? Then the Elders will take charge and intervene, and only do so when there is no other option. That is their role to allow Guides to learn and be mentored, but when harms become consistent and are deliberate then Elders have the power and the right to use whatever means to prevent harms. This is what occurred, and it’s as simple as that; I was protecting and defending the innocent from being harmed from an abuse of power.

To try and put it in physical realm terms consider the scenario; a manager is caught fiddling his expenses and is found out, and because of it his whole team suffers and doesn’t get a bonus that month. He is reprimanded by his director not to do this again, however, when the director is on vacation he continues to fiddle his expenses and HR then get involved and give him a written warning and suspends his ability to have an expense account. This doesn’t deter him and is found to have submitted fake receipts, so the chairman of the company takes action and demotes him as neither the director or HR (in the hierarchy chain) have been effective, and not only did his team suffer as a consequence of his actions, the company had lost money through fraudulent expense claims.

Responsibility is never easy, and isn’t something everyone wants. Those in power or a position of power must accept that they won’t always be friends with everyone under their charge, and that they must make unpopular decisions for the greater good. Just because someone challenges or criticizes their actions doesn’t mean they were wrong, but that many people don’t fully understand when someone has to take responsibility and act it is for a reason that may not be obvious, nor is it their business to question why an action was taken if it doesn’t personally affect them.

We all have a moral responsibility to help others in need and that will never change, because saying in hindsight, “I wished I had done something,” is too late. Finding that perfect balance to do the right thing, and not to cross the line of interfering or invading privacy is a constant lesson that will never end, or knowing when things have gone too far and action is necessary.


If You Have Nothing Nice To Say, Say Nothing At All ~ Right or Wrong?

Many of us have grown up with the above saying, “If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all,” but is this applicable all of the time? One doesn’t wish to be a hypocrite, but when there is silence when a question is asked, then that silence speaks louder than words.

We all come across occasions when we have said the wrong thing, have over stepped the mark, offended without intent, or were unaware of the circumstances when saying something, but that is human. Some may judge you as tactless or consider it bad manners, which is why silence or knowing when to be silent can either be considered safe or perhaps others mistake is as quiet enabling.

Should we be afraid to ask questions if they are reasonable and why are we afraid of the truth and honesty? If so, then where is the art of real conversation going? Then we may ask, what is considered reasonable? Recently, a friend said someone called Anna was staying on their sofa. A reasonable question is to ask who that is, isn’t it? I was met with silence as eventually it was revealed she is a grandchild that was being fostered, and whom my friend didn’t want to discuss. They felt embarrassed because they were afraid I would judge them and I felt bad because I wondered if I had over stepped the boundaries. We did however clear the air, because they knew I didn’t know who Anna was, and I replied I could just pretend I knew or that I didn’t want to know. Which option is better, and what is the point of it?

I had another incident where I was visiting a friend, and her partner invited his best friend and wife along. A reasonable question to ask if how did the couple meet—it’s simple harmless conversation after all. My friend then reprimanded me and said it was wrong of me to ask because they were having marriage difficulties. To be honest, I don’t think I was in the wrong; if one is at a dinner party and is introduced as a couple it’s a very normal safe question to ask. If they were having marriage problems, they should be alone sorting them out and not expecting others in public to tip toe around their issues.

In other cases, should you remain quiet when things are facts? Facts cannot be disputed and are not opinion based, and the truth is some facts aren’t very nice. Should you remain quiet and only discuss nice and good facts, and ignore the bad ones or pretend they don’t exist? When someone asks you what you think about someone, should you lie, or remain quiet if you don’t like them? By remaining quiet or giving a neutral answer such as, “They seem okay,” you are being polite, but not truthful and people know. By sparing their feelings, you are also losing a bit of integrity and step closer to that of being a hypocrite, afraid of the truth.

The current generation doesn’t appear to adhere to this rule of remaining quiet, and often express their views without any regard for the consequences as they feel they have a right to speak their minds. We do theoretically, but should also consider whether it’s an opinion or fact. Opinions and perceptions will always change and vary according to the person, but facts will remain the same, and you can try and distort them, but essentially all you are doing is denying a truth that you prefer not to know.

A good person shouldn’t intentionally say things to harm another, but if telling the truth (no matter how nasty) could help, surely that is better than remaining quiet? An example is if you know someone is being unfaithful, should you say something when asked or not? The problem I see in society today is that people fear the truth and would rather not know things. However, there are tactless people who say things that can offend and harm others and because no one has told them this, they continue. That’s why sometimes it’s good to tell someone so they know what the boundaries are.

I do try to always find something nice or neutral to say, but I’m from the School of Honesty is the Best Policy. It’s a case of how it’s delivered rather than the content though, so I don’t offend most of the time when I tell the truth. The fact is that we can’t always be nice, but should strive to be and because so many people do try and stay silent or give non-answers when they don’t wish to offend, it already tells the other party that they wanted to say something that wasn’t so nice. Therefore, do we humans play a game of pretending and choosing what sounds better versus the truth?

The truth is that honesty isn’t always pleasant, but is that better than a half-baked fib so as not to upset someone? The answer in polite society is to opt for the safe half-baked lie. However, an underlying consequence is that people are then deluded and continue with behaviors that could be questionable. The question is, is that right, to enable these behaviors? While I always advocate honesty wherever possible, it’s only pertinent when that person can accept it or is willing to.

When it comes to discussing those in the public eye, we can ascertain from the facts (from their past behaviors and choices) what we choose to perceive. The fact is they have chosen to be in the public eye through being a celebrity or a politician and therefore should expect to be scrutinized, and accept that not all things said about them will be nice. That doesn’t mean they should be targeted, but if someone is part of a cult and they publicly say and do things that offend others, then people have a right to say what they think about them. Another example is when people are called gold diggers, and their history shows a pattern alluding to that, perhaps they are, but there is no law against it. Certain things can’t be proven, but can be deduced easily, so should people remain silent in this case too? People can state probable and likely facts, even if they aren’t so nice if they have an element of truth.

Basically, if you choose to say nothing at all to avoid hurting someone’s feelings, just because you haven’t said what you think doesn’t alter the fact that you had a negative thought. They probably know it, and if they persist and ask if you are being honest, then what do you do? The dilemma is then to lie to pacify, and so silence isn’t always the easy option if you don’t deliver it convincingly. That’s why I advocate tactful honesty based on facts, and in the worse case, to offer no opinion through ignorance. Realistically, people must learn from hearing a few dark truths, because the world and humanity aren’t perfect, but we should find a balance between honesty and avoiding hurting others feelings whenever possible, but not to tip toe around the truth all of the time.

Do We Enable A Superficial Existence?

For some of us, we may question the point of existence, yet there are different layers—an extrinsic (spiritual) layer, and an intrinsic (materialistic) layer. So while some deep thinkers may come up with theories as to why humans exist, why pain, happiness, and other emotive responses occur, the vast majority will only focus on the intrinsic layer—what they can see, feel, understand, relate to and can touch. This is however superficial and is created my humans, but do we all enable it and therefore are responsible for how it has evolved?

Consider the goals one has in life on a superficial level that society has created and framed:

  • Get a good education
  • Have your own home
  • Marry an attractive partner and have children
  • Find a well paid job

Who says we must have these to exist? The irony is that people subconsciously believe they must do these and that is what existence is about. Yet if you look at someone who lives in a remote village in Asia, with no contact with the western world, few of these goals will apply, but they are still humans that exist on this planet.

If we move on, other superficial goals that society has created and enabled are the following:

  • Go on holiday several times a year
  • Buy a flat screen television
  • Wear designer clothes
  • Get the latest smartphone or laptop
  • Own your own company
  • Dine out at least once a week

Have these been created to advance humanity, or are they superficially meant to classify people from those who have succeeded and those who have not in the eyes of society? You only have to look at lifestyle surveys to see what marketing companies are deeming successful, and if you don’t fit into their niche they reject you. The question is; are you a failure if you don’t go abroad or on holiday, if you don’t eat in a restaurant once a week, or if you don’t own a smartphone? The answer is a realistic ‘no’ yet in the eyes of many who are brainwashed into superficiality they would deem that to be the case. So, are we as a society enabling this superficial existence based on material goods, appearance, and status by subconsciously conforming to the goals the media promotes and that society aspire to and accept as goals for success?

Look at tabloid types of magazines, websites, and shows where people focus on appearances, and what kind of lives alleged beautiful and successful people are living in a bid to promote aspirations. Is that a realistic or practical type of existence? Is that what life is about? It’s worrying that an emerging generation look to celebrity gossip as inspiration, and websites that promote egos, status, and shaming as the norm. Magazines thrive on trivial gossip, boosting those without merit and embarrassing those in the public eye when they make an error. Again, think about it and consider is that what existence is about and if so, why do you strive to be like that?

Let us look at the extrinsic layer of existence, which is intangible, and unproven but does make logical sense. People can’t always relate to these theories, and many prefer not to, simply because they can’t see the endgame as in ‘what’s in it’ for them.

  • We exist to learn from our mistakes and be a better person/soul.
  • By existing we are helping others learn their lessons, through support and advice.
  • Existence has a purpose to help mankind and society to evolve.

Many may struggle with the above and wonder how and what do they need to learn, how can they help others (and should they), and why does mankind need to evolve? Now, I’m not talking about human rights or charity work here, because these are remedies for man made problems. Yes, there maybe starvation in some countries, but look at the corrupt governance there and why it exists, then there are cultural differences in laws that may need to evolve, but one must still respect the choice of different laws and cultures in society.

The extrinsic layer will rarely bring about immediate results, and that can deter people because human nature likes to see progress as it motivates them. Also some will want to see the rewards, or want to know how they are doing. Unlike a scale of wealth you cannot measure how you have progressed in terms of learning from your mistakes, as there is no limit. Some may ask, “How can anything I do help mankind evolve?” and the simple answer is that we all do without actively thinking about it.

In what ways to we enable a superficial existence? We do it by placing importance on transient and trivial matters—why is it important to hail a previously unknown celebrity spouse as a fashion icon because designers give them free clothes knowing they will be photographed, do we care who a Prince or Princess is dating, and why would what the public (a handful of people in a poll) think have any credence or relevance? Why are we made to feel or look inadequate if we don’t have a social media account or know how to use one? Why do we judge others on where they live or where they went to school? Materialism is superficial and people become materialistic without realizing it because others validate it and make it seem normal, hence these attitudes and behaviors enable a superficial existence.

People aim to go to a college that will make them look good in society, to use the latest smartphone in public so others will think more highly of them, or they emulate celebrities in what they wear and use in a bid to feel superior to others. Does any of the above actually matter extrinsically? No, because people are conforming to what others have created as the purpose of living and existing. You have to ask yourself what is that all for? Who gains pleasure from any of it and did you enjoy it? One may enjoy watching a film on a large flat screen television, but that lasts a couple of hours, and they may proudly brag about their possession. However, it can breakdown, and eventually it will become outdated. It’s transient. What about wearing designer clothes, or the same outfit as a celebrity in a bid to feel good? You wear it for a day or on several occasions, but you have to take it off to go to sleep, to wash it, and it can get torn or stained. Again, it is transient.

I recently stopped reading many magazines because rather than read articles that explore issues I have found the recent generation of writers (sorry millennials) who boast, brag, and who praise their peers for pretty much anything. There is no real substance in most of the media, yet it has the power to brainwash the weak-minded and impressionable into thinking that is the point of existing—to earn enough to go on holiday, to pay a deposit on a flash new car, to buy shoes that a film star wore, or even to follow a cause because someone said it was a good idea. It’s not only the media that enable this, but those who choose to take note and blindly conform.

Are any media outlets promoting extrinsic concepts of existence? Usually they are seen as the loony websites, cults, or religious crazies, but you don’t need to read or listen to any of them. Simply ask yourself when you are at the end of your life, what was the point of your existence? What did you learn, what made you happy, sad, and when you had to make difficult choices how did you do that? That is the real purpose of existence, not to have children, a mansion, a highflying job, and to look immaculate. These elements may have helped you find out things about yourself (strengths and weaknesses) and others, such as children may teach you how to love, or be responsible, a house may teach you what is it to feel secure and safe, and a job can teach you about interacting with others (good and bad). They also teach you that they are fleeting, and come and go and there is no continuity.

Instead of waiting until your golden years ask yourself the important questions of what your aims are for your existence. What do you wish to achieve for yourself and no one else. The truth is no one will really care if you went to Harvard or if you did an online degree (there is still snob value where Harvard Extension is considered low class even though it’s the same courses taught on campus), no one will care that you lived on the most expensive street in town, because none of those things have defined you as an individual.

We do have the ability to think for ourselves and that seems to have been forgotten. Don’t get me wrong, I like nice clothes, but I choose colors, fabrics, and styles I like and that suit me, and I also opt for practical technology that I am comfortable with and can use. I like to travel, and go to places that inspire me or that I wish to visit to explore rather than others who like to boast where they have been to look glamorous. I’ve been there and in a circle that behaved as such, and it really is a façade most of the time, and then some believed in it and tried to be something that they weren’t because they thought that is who they could become. The problem is they weren’t do it for themselves, but for others acceptance and validation.

So why do we exist? It’s not to upgrade to a new smartphone every couple of years, to go on holiday each year, or to buy a new wardrobe each season. If that is your existence (and that’s what some people aim and for live for), then maybe you need to think about why you feel the need for any of the above? The fact is you can exist without them, but what can’t you exist without? Humanity; morals to know what is right or wrong (and to act accordingly), humility, the ability to forgive, love, and most importantly know who you are and that it doesn’t matter what others think. It’s nice to be liked and loved, but that doesn’t make you a good or enlightened soul, because you, whether you want to believe it or not chose to exist, and you do know the reason or reasons, you just need to discover them in your own time.